Ryan O'Neil will be the Leopards' starting quarterback.
Aug. 8, 2011
The Lafayette football program finds itself in unfamiliar territory, coming off an uncharacteristic 2-9 campaign. The Leopards had their streak of six straight seasons with a winning record and a Top 25 national ranking snapped in 2010. The team is out to prove last season was an aberration.
Lafayette returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense. The Leopards have 37 letterwinners coming back while losing just 11 to graduation. Entering preseason camp, the depth chart features experience in the starting corps as only three sophomores are slated among the 22 players expected to start on their respective units.
Five All-Patriot League honorees return, including four on offense and one on defense. Seniors Scott Biel, Anthony Buffolino and Kevin Doty are All-Patriot selections on the offensive line at guard, tackle and tight end, respectively, and sophomore Pat Creahan earned an all-league nod at fullback.
Defensively, senior cornerback Brandon Ellis is a two-time All-Patriot League honoree, as he was selected to the first team in 2010 and the second team in 2009. He also garnered ESPN Academic All-District II honors in 2010. Ellis will help direct a secondary that returns all four starters and is the most experienced of any position group on the team.
Senior Ryan O'Neil expects to reprise his role as the Leopards' starting quarterback in 2011. His numbers certainly show his efficiency at quarterback in offensive coordinator Mickey Fein's system.
In 2010, O'Neil completed 67 percent (209-of-313) of his passes for 2,183 yards. He threw 15 touchdowns to seven interceptions while starting nine games. O'Neil finished the campaign ranked 23rd in the nation in passing efficiency (136.7) and 35th in total offense (223.8).
O'Neil threw for a pair of 300-yard games. He completed 33-of-41 for 304 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener vs. Georgetown on Sept. 11. Against Holy Cross on Nov. 13, O'Neil turned in the best game of his career, connecting on 35-of-42 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns.
As a team, the Leopards ranked 19th in the nation in passing offense with 251 yards per game, but didn't benefit from a solid run game as they had in recent championship seasons.
"O'Neil comes into this season as our quarterback with a much different frame of mind," said 12th year Head Coach Frank Tavani. "He is much stronger physically and mentally. He went from being the starter to having to take a seat and then back to playing again last season. That really builds character and he has prepared himself to have a successful year."
The Leopards are not without options at quarterback, and Tavani has been known to use multiple quarterbacks during his tenure.
Junior Andrew Shoop was third on the depth chart in 2010 behind O'Neil and the graduated Marc Quilling. Shoop only threw three passes (with two completions and a touchdown) in 2010, but has shown a strong arm during his time on College Hill. Sophomore Patrick McCain and freshman Zach Zweizig will be competing for snaps. Zweizig's classmate Kyle Ohradzansky enrolled in classes in the spring of 2011, but will sit out the 2011 season following hip surgery.
"Developing that next person is so important because you never know when the opportunity is going to come up for the back-up," Tavani said. "I had hoped that the back-up situation would resolve itself in the spring, but that wasn't the case. We'll have quite a bit of competition when we open camp."
The tailback spot is one that has been ravaged by injury over the past two seasons and that certainly has stifled the Leopards' running attack. That fact has forced the coaching staff to rethink the way it employs players in the position.
Jerome Rudolph certainly fits into that category, as the senior was the top running back on the depth chart when the 2010 season started, but managed to play in just three games due to recurring symptoms from a concussion sustained in week two.
There is no doubting his ability, as the Leopards are a more explosive offense when he figures into the mix. Rudolph was the Leopards' third-leading rusher in 2009, racking up 215 yards on the ground with an average of 5.1 yards per carry. His numbers in 2010 were similar, with 42 carries for 275 yards (4.9 yards per carry), and again he finished third on the team in rushing, despite playing in just three games.
Rudolph also has shown himself to be a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. He made 17 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore and pulled in six catches for 83 yards (13.8 yards per catch) in 2010.
"Rudy just gives us so many options when he is out there and he is a great third-down back," Tavani said. "He's a vital cog in the wheel and is as good and as fast as any back we'll see in the league."
In preparation for his senior campaign, Rudolph joined the Lafayette track team beginning with the winter indoor season. In the outdoor campaign, he got off to a quick start, running the 100m dash in 10.75 (sixth best in school history) and qualifying for the IC4A Championships. Rudolph also anchored the 4x100m relay that captured a Patriot League championship.
Juniors Alan Elder, Vaughn Hebron and Emery Young will also be competing for carries. Elder finds himself near the top of the depth chart as camp opens and was the team's leading rusher in 2010 with 119 carries for 450 yards (3.8 yards per carry). Elder was the most durable of the Leopards' options in 2010 and was tabbed as the team's Offensive Back MVP.
Hebron played in the first three games of 2010 before a torn ACL in practice forced him to miss the rest of the season.
Sophomores Marcellus Irving and Pat Mputu will also get carries. Irving played in eight games, carrying 23 times for 77 yards. Mputu sat out the spring season in order to concentrate on academics but will be ready to vie for significant carries. In 2010, he was the team's second-leading rusher, running 87 times for 373 yards. He also made 19 grabs for 231 yards and a touchdown. Mputu was twice named the Patriot League Rookie of the Week, managing 84 receiving yards and 55 rushing yards in a win at Bucknell and 102 yards on the ground in a victory over Stony Brook (10/16).
"Running the ball is going to continue to be a huge priority for us. We're loaded up with a big group of running backs who should allow us to do that," Tavani said. "When you can't run with consistency, you struggle in all facets offensively. Even with the spread offense, it's important to establish the ground game which opens up so many things."
Lafayette received immediate contributions from a pair of rising sophomores in their first seasons on College Hill.
Pat Creahan earned All-Patriot League Second-Team laurels at the position and was named the team's Rookie of the Year. Creahan's offensive exploits were focused primarily on blocking, but his ability to catch the ball made him a receiving target with 10 catches for 74 yards in 11 games.
Classmate Greg Kessel played in nine games with a start vs. Lehigh, collecting nine catches for 45 yards with touchdowns against Georgetown and Harvard. Junior Pete Bross and sophomore Jake McTighe are also vying for time.
"We really use our fullbacks like H-backs," Tavani said. "Creahan had a heck of a rookie year for us. Kessel, who floated between tight end and fullback last season, zeroed in on fullback this spring and was very physical and athletic."
For the second straight season, wide receiver will be one of the deepest positions for the Leopards. That group is headed by fifth-year senior Mitchell Bennett but will be hurt by the graduation of Mark Layton (64 rec., 748 yards, 6 TDs), Lafayette's top receiver in 2010. Bennett made 33 catches for 394 yards (11.9 yards per catch) despite battling through a foot injury for most of the season. He had surgery in the offseason and will be ready for preseason camp.
What Bennett does on the field does not always show up in the stat line. He is one of the team's top blockers on the outside and also served as a team captain in 2010.
Fellow seniors Kyle Hayes and Greg Stripe likely will work their way into the other wide receiver slots when the Leopards have three wideouts on the field. Classmate Nathan Padia has the potential to be one of the Leopards' top receivers, but sat out the 2010 season due to a thumb injury.
Hayes, who was named as one of the team's two Most Improved Players, enjoyed a breakout year as the Leopards' most consistent pass catcher in 2010, reeling in 39 catches for 14.0 yards per catch in seven starts. Five of those grabs were touchdowns.
Stripe made 15 catches for 127 yards in 2010, a season after snaring 20 passes for 280 yards. He started four games and played in all 11.
Sophomores Mark Ross, Matt Grant and Jet Kollie are also making their push for playing time. Ross is a physical receiver who stepped to the forefront during the spring while Tavani describes Grant as a "smooth" pass catcher. Kollie is versatile and used most often in the slot and in the return game.
The tight end continues to be an important component in the Lafayette offense. Senior Kevin Doty will enter his third season as a starter. He made 19 catches for 206 yards and a touchdown in 2010. Doty also spends time as the team's long snapper. He will be pushed by 6-7 sophomore Brandon Hall and 6-5 sophomore Morgan Donohue. Hall, who played in 10 games with a start against Stony Brook, made four catches for 59 yards as a rookie.
The offensive line is the biggest it has ever been during Tavani's tenure, averaging 312 pounds among the projected starters. It will be anchored by seniors Scott Biel and Anthony Buffolino, each of whom enters his third year in the starting lineup. They played alongside each other on the left side of the line in every game in 2010 with Biel at guard and Buffolino at tackle. This season the 325-pound Buffolino will make the move to right tackle while the 310-pound Biel will remain at left guard.
Sophomore Pat Crosby was expected to battle with senior Jake Crooks for the center spot vacated by the graduation of Mike Eck. Crosby sustained a shoulder injury during the first week of spring ball and opted for surgery in July, forcing him to sit out in 2011. Crooks played in all 11 games in 2010, starting seven at right guard and right tackle.
Sophomore Brad Bormann is at the top spot in the two-deep at right guard, looking to replace Zach Schleimer and will be backed up by junior Tyler Swoyer. Both Bormann and Swoyer fought back injuries during the spring. At left tackle, senior Matt Welch joins Biel and Buffolino as returning starters, having played in eight games and starting the last six.
"We're as big a group as we have ever been on the offensive line," Tavani said. "We had three potential starters miss most of the spring season, so we're going to have our work cut out for us as we move into preseason."
The Lafayette defense has a lot to prove after a season that was not to the level that 12th year Defensive Coordinator John Loose has come to expect. Following a move from a 3-4 to a 4-3, the Leopards finished 58th in the nation in total defense and 89th in rushing defense for a program that has consistently been effective in stopping the run. By contrast in 2009, Lafayette was 11th in the nation in rushing defense (99.6 ypg) and 10th in the nation in rushing defense (92.2 ypg) in 2008.
All four starters return to the Lafayette secondary. Senior All-Patriot League selection Brandon Ellis heads the group at cornerback. The Defensive Back MVP in 2010 is the team's third-leading returning tackler (65 tackles) and led the team with eight pass breakups.
Junior Darius Safford gets the early nod at the other corner. He sat out the 2010 season and classmate Kyni Scott stepped in. Scott was slowed by injury in 2010 but started seven games, finished with 30 tackles and recovered two fumbles. With Scott's injury, sophomores Paul Coleman and DeOliver Davis each started a pair of games and will further bolster the defensive backfield.
Senior free safety Kyle Simmons is the team's leading returning tackler. Simmons made 77 stops with two interceptions and a fumble recovery as a junior and was one of the Leopards' top run stoppers.
At strong safety is another senior in Evan McGovern. McGovern started 10 of the 11 games in which he played, registering 48 tackles with four pass breakups. Sophomores Tyler Robinson and Shane Brady and junior Neal Zott combined to play in 20 games and will look to be reserves at the safety positions.
"With as much experience as we have in the defensive backfield, we're really looking to have that group of guys step up and make plays. We need turnovers, and they need to convert on interception opportunities," Tavani said. "That group has been here, working hard all summer and will be ready to anchor the defense."
Senior Ben Eaton heads the linebacking corps for the Leopards and will be playing the "mike" linebacker in 2011. Eaton started all 11 games last season and is the team's second-leading returning tackler with 70 tackles. Eaton will have an injury redshirt year remaining that will allow him to suit up for the Leopards in 2012.
He will be joined by a fellow senior but a new face to the Lafayette program in Tyler McFarlane. McFarlane, who was forced to sit out last season after transferring from Hofstra and needing to fulfill a residency requirement, will look to start at the "will" linebacker. Senior Nick Nardone is expected to start at the "sam" linebacker spot. In 2010, he showed his versatility, playing at linebacker and as a fifth defensive back in passing situations. Nardone made 55 tackles and picked off two passes in 2010.
Nardone will be backed up by senior Nate Dixon. Dixon was slated to be the starter last season, but his knee injury in the first game abruptly ended his campaign.
Sophomore Mike Boles, who saw action in eight games as a freshman, is the No. 2 at the "mike" linebacker while senior Leroy Butler is the top reserve at the "will" linebacker spot. Sophomores Kasheem Hill and Ben Aloi and junior Sam Stuart will also see time.
The graduation of Mike Schmidlein leaves a large hole to fill, as the two-time All-Patriot League selection was the team's leading tackler in 2009 and 2010.
"We really need our linebackers to improve their level of play this season," Tavani said. "Ben has another year of experience under his belt, and we've already seen what MacFarlane can bring to the table. Boles is really starting to pick it up and is much more physical. Those guys along with Butler and Hill are going to bring more athleticism to the area of our defense that is so important to our success."
The Leopards lose two starters on the four-man front with the graduation of Mike Phillips and Doug Gerowski. Senior Mike Grimaldi has the most experience returning to the defensive line, starting in 10 of 11 games last season. Grimaldi is slotted for the defensive end "anchor" position after making 32 tackles (six for loss) a year ago when he was named one of the team's Most Improved Players.
At the other end of the line at the defensive end "bull" spot is junior Tahir Basil. Basil played in seven games last season with three of his five tackles counting for a loss.
Senior Andrew Holmes, who played in 10 games and started one last season, will certainly see his fair share of action at tackle, competing with sophomore Darius Glover who missed the 2010 season due to injury. Senior Kyvory Henderson and junior Zach Protin, who played in nine games in 2010, will look to be the backups at end.
"Grimaldi and Lyster have emerged as the leaders of the defensive line and are guys who bring it every play," Tavani said. "Marshalek is a big guy who moves well and is really getting his first opportunity to show what he can do. Basil is very tenacious and athletic, and we've seen glimpses of his ability in the past only to have him be slowed by injury."
For the first time in four seasons, Lafayette will have a new field goal kicker following the graduation of Davis Rodriguez. An All-Patriot League First-Team selection in 2010, Rodriguez left Lafayette with 251 career points, trailing only fellow Lafayette alums Jason McLaughlin '95 with 255 points and Jim Hodson '91 with 254 points on the Patriot League's kick scoring leaders list.
The Leopards' starting punter for the last three seasons, Tom Kondash, also has been lost to graduation, and Swerdlow will battle with O'Brien (6-3, 250) to handle punting duties. Kevin Doty is expected to return as the long snapper after occupying that position the last two seasons. Kyle Hayes, a quarterback in high school, will be the holder for the second straight season and will be backed up by Andrew Shoop.
The return game is still to be determined, but senior Greg Stripe and sophomore Jet Kollie are the front runners. Stripe returned 14 punts and 25 kickoffs to Kollie's three punt returns and 22 kick returns in 2010. Jerome Rudolph and Kyni Scott are also viable options.
"We need some more speed back there, so we're going to take a look at a lot of different options," Tavani said.
Three Ivy League powerhouses and a first-ever trip to North Dakota State University highlight the 2011 Lafayette football schedule. The schedule features five home games and six road contests.
The Leopards are scheduled to begin the 2011 slate with four road games, the first of which will take them to Fargo, N.D. North Dakota State is a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and the perennially strong Bison program finished 9-5 in 2010, losing to eventual national champion Eastern Washington in the third round of the FCS playoffs.
The 1,400 mile trip to Fargo, N.D. will be the farthest west the Leopards have ever traveled when they make the journey for the opener. Previously, Lafayette ventured 700-plus miles to Dayton, Ohio in 1923.
"We're excited to play a team like North Dakota State as part of a strong schedule in 2011 that features the best of the Ivy and Patriot Leagues," Tavani said. "We'll be competing in a tough environment in an area of the country where many of our kids never have been. North Dakota State is a scholarship program which plays in front of capacity crowds, so it's going to be a big challenge for us."
Following NDSU, Lafayette will begin Patriot League play at Georgetown and then travel to Philadelphia for another chapter in the historic series with Penn. After a return game to Stony Brook on the north shore of Long Island, the Leopards will finally open at home vs. Harvard on Oct. 1. The game originally was scheduled for Cambridge, Mass. but was switched in the fall of 2010 at Harvard's request.
Lafayette has a mid-season bye week in week six of the 2011 slate which has three of Lafayette's five home games scheduled for 6 p.m. starts under the lights of Fisher Stadium.
The second of five home games will be Oct. 15 against Ivy League foe Yale. Oct. 22 features a Homecoming weekend game against Fordham with Family Weekend the following Saturday against Patriot League rival Bucknell. The Leopards will be looking for their 10th straight victory over the Bison.
Lafayette closes out its home slate with another Patriot League contest Nov. 5 against Colgate. The Leopards conclude the season by traveling to Holy Cross on Nov. 13 and Lehigh on Nov. 19 to finish the regular season. The meeting with Lehigh will be the 147th in College Football's Most Played Rivalry.